Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Relatives are Here to STAY!

When I was growing up, I loved going to visit our relatives. Whether heading to Ohio or Florida, I always looked forward to the trip, to sleeping on cots, to just being with family. Of course, after about a week, everyone’s ready for the time to come to an end. We were always ready to get back to our own house, and I’m sure our relatives were ready to get rid of us!

Here in Uganda things work quite a bit differently. When relatives come for a visit, there is often no planning for the event. One day you come home to find the house full of people, often up to ten or more relatives, depending on the number of children brought along for the “visit.” They are simply “there” with no plan as to when they’ll be going, and of course, it would be rude to ask. Your job is to provide food, medical care, and whatever else might be needed during the stay. Sleeping arrangements are quite interesting, since most houses typically consist of one or two (at the most!) bedrooms, a sitting room, and then an outside kitchen. I’m not quite sure how people sleep, though I would assume quite a few sleep on mats on the floor. Of course, most visits do eventually come to an end, and the house gets back to normal.

It was a different situation for my friend Kibeti. A few nights ago, he arrived home to find that his sister, her husband, and two kids had arrived from a long journey. Only they had not come for a visit, they had ARRIVED. Suddenly, memories of “Uncle Buck” (John Candy) come flooding back to me. I wonder how it went. “Oh, hello my sister. It’s great to see you.” “Yes my brother, we are here.” “Yes, you are here.” “Yes.” “You are welcome.” “Thank-you.” “How is there?” “There is not fine. There is no food and the water has been hard to get.” “Oh, I am sorry.” “So, we are here.” “Yes, you are here.” And so it ends. You know exactly what has been said, “We are here without plans of going back. Glad we can stay with you.”

Unfortunately for Kibeti, his other sister has already been staying with him in their two room house, along with his own wife and two children. Now it’s nine people in a house about the size of most Americans’ living room. There is one up-side to things, though. Kibeti has been adding on to his house, a third bedroom, so his sister can have her own room and so he and his wife can sleep alone! He’s been working on this project for around six months now, building slowly by slowly, ten or fifteen dollars a month going into the project. Actually, Kibeti just sold his gigantic female pig (not long ago she produced 13 piglets!) in exchange for a smaller pig and some money- just enough to finish the room so his sister could move in. It is that money that Kibeti had in his pocket (over two-month’s wage for him!) when his sister and family found him.

I asked him what he was going to do. He said, “You know, God has blessed me in that my sister found me with money in my pocket. I will find for her a room to rent and pay three months rent, and I will buy for her cooking pans, plates, cups, and a hoe and slasher so they will be able to find some jobs and earn some money.” He wasn’t complaining, though now I’m not sure how long it will be for him to finally finish that room. The words of I Timothy 5:8 hit me hard, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” Talk about the need for living out the Gospel! In the West, we have little idea what this verse really means or how to live it out. What would you have done in Kibeti’s place? How can you live out this verse in your own context?

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Celebrating 20 Years of Family!

Godfrey stepped off the taxi and began walking up the familiar drive that leads into New Hope Uganda’s Kasana Children’s Center. A smile lit up his face as he beheld the giant “Welcome Home” banner that stretched over the road just before the gate leading into New Hope. Uncle Tony, Godfrey’s former principal and a Senior Leader at New Hope, rose quickly from the welcome station and hurried to meet Godfrey, embracing him with a warm hug. Godfrey was home.

Godfrey is a son of New Hope. He has been in and out of the family over the past few years for many different reasons, the latest being continual drug use. He has been living in Kampala at a Christian run drug rehabilitation center and has been doing wonderfully, most clearly seen in his renewed heart for God that previously had only been seen in short flashes. Godfrey, along with a few hundred of his brothers and sisters who also grew up at New Hope, returned home to celebrate 20 years of New Hope family. The weekend celebration rejoined and rekindled relationships of all sorts including many who had not seen each other in more than 10 years! And how exciting to find many of those who have been sons and daughters of New Hope coming with their sons and daughters, grandkids of the ministry!

It was exciting to hear the testimonies of those who have been living “outside” for so many years, to hear of God’s faithfulness to all as well as His relentless pursuit of those who left New Hope in a “bad” way, to hear of the fruit that is being born through those who at one time were considered “hopeless” by their families and community, to see the reach of these men and women throughout Uganda and even into Rwanda, and to hear the sons and daughters exhorting their young “brothers and sisters” who are currently at New Hope to follow their true Father and to accept the family that they have here. Powerful.

Isaiah 60:4 came alive for all of us- in fact, Laura Beth could not read it without crying throughout the weekend! It says, "Lift up your eyes all around, and see; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar and your daughters shall be carried on the arm."

The weekend was also a fun time together, as Saturday was filled with foot races, sack races, races with bottles on the head, bike races, and football (soccer) matches (of course, the current kids defeated the “old boys” as well as the staff!). One of the highlights was Saturday night at the bonfire when those who had returned gave testimonies about their lives and their time at New Hope, honoring their fathers (Uncle Jay Dangers and Uncle Jonnes Bakimi) and giving Glory to God. Sunday was our day of Thanksgiving, complete with the family march around the circle with banners flying and branches waving, and then a five hour church service filled with singing, thanksgiving, and testimonies! Yes…5 hours! (and I wasn’t even tired afterwards! Yes, I’m becoming Ugandan : ). We then had a gigantic community meal for the over 1,500 people present! You should have seen the lines for the food!
Mukama Awebwe Ekitibwa (To God be the Glory)

Please continue to pray for the ministry of New Hope Uganda and for the sons and daughters that are currently here as well as those who are now grown and living out on their own. Pray that the love of the Father, the true Father of the fatherless, would melt and bind up the brokenhearted in our midst, that the Gospel would penetrate hearts, that fatherhood and motherhood would be received, that family would be established, and that God would make His Name known in Uganda through those He has entrusted to us here at New Hope. Please also pray for our next site of ministry in Kumi that will focus on children who have been recovered from the fighting in the North, those who have been abducted by Koni and the LRA and recovered from the fighting. Also pray for our coming Manhood and Womanhood camp on Lake Victoria that will be a place for discipleship and retreats for our children as well as others from around Uganda, as we are still trying to secure the land so that we can begin building there and developing the site.